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Marston Green in the parish of Coleshill had in addition to the fourteen cottages, an infirmary, school, workshops, probationary house and a house for the Superintendent. The boys were taught various trades and the girls practical house work along with the usual school subjects. They had their own chaplain.

Entrance and Probationary House

Boys’ Cottages


Girls’ Cottages


Boys’ Cottages

School Entrance

Superintendent’s House

Cottage Homes

Cottage Homes were set up on the lines of an experimental colony for delinquent boys set up in Mettray, France. It was found that living in small “family” groups in pleasant surroundings lead to improvement in the behaviour of the residents. So from 1871 children were transferred from the large dormitory wings of  workhouses to purpose built communities. Some cottages were set in a street situation while others were built around a “village green”. The “Homes” in Bridgend opened in 1879 can still be seen, the interiors have been modernised and are now privately owned by the present residents. Marston Green Cottage Homes were built in a similar style but were far bigger, housing  417 children in 1903 when our relation lived there. (Bridgend had 43 children at the same time.)

Jenifer Wayne describes Marston Green during the 1890s in her book Brown Bread and Butter in the Basement  “... a village some fifteen miles from Birmingham. In the nineties ...deep in the country...”.the rent for their cottage was £5 per year. Her Grandfather Arthur Charles WAYNE had been a school teacher at the Cottage Homes. He left Marston Green to become the Superintendent at the newly built Aston Cottage Homes in Erdington. He moved in 1900 not long after Albert HOLLIOAKE entered Marston Green in 1899. However Miss Wayne does relate stories about a second Marston Green teacher who may have taught Albert. This man had been a workhouse child. He was badly disfigured while rescuing someone from a fire. Sadly his red hair and withered arm made him subject to ridicule and he was far from gentle in his dealings with his pupils. “In the school at the Cottage Homes Benbow kept his classes transfixed with fear and boredom ...”  

 When Elizabeth Skellet MELLOR [928] died in the Workhouse infirmary her youngest children Albert Allman [890] and Violet HOLLIOAKE [929] were taken to Marston Green Cottage Homes. From the story he told his youngest daughters it seems that Albert and Violet tried to keep themselves hidden as best they could after their mother died but a month after Albert was picked up by a “fine” lady in a carriage and taken to the Cottage Homes. It has been suggested that the lady was Miss Cadbury. Jenifer Wayne explains that it was Miss Cadbury that appointed her Grandfather Superintendent of the Aston Homes.”Miss Cadbury, of the chocolate family was a very active local personage in social welfare.”  What happened to Violet is unknown but she too was eventually admitted to the Cottage Homes a month later although the registers make no indication that Albert and Violet were siblings. After the cramped back to back house in crowded streets were they had previously lived the Cottage Homes must have been amazing for them. There were fourteen houses each for about 30 children set in park land. This “Village” had it’s own school, infirmary and chapel. The House mothers were often widows.

In her book Jenifer Wayne described the area where Albert had previously lived as “a blackened network of courts, yards, back streets and alleys sordid with poverty, drunkenness and crime.” she continues to describe the children of the area.”Not only were they barefoot,but really in rags, and they really did  sometimes sleep in the gutters,The drunks slept there too;people thought nothing of stepping over them.” Albert told his children how he used to sit on the pavement talking to the men outside Rowton House a hostel for homeless men.

Albert once went to see the Cottage Homes with one of his daughters and pointed out his house which was next to the clock tower. Another of his daughters wrote;

Going through the Marston Green Cottage Homes School's Log Books there is no mention of either Albert or Violet Johnson. It was obviously a very caring community much visited by the Cadbury's. Hearing and eye tests regularly arranged, trips (even to Llandudno!) days off etc. Monthly references to time off when "Parents visited from workhouse" or “children visited mothers in workhouse”. Also the temperatures of classrooms were recorded and children sent back to their cottages when it was too cold and when workmen were burning rubbish near the boys school, it was deemed "unsuitable for the boys" and they were sent to share the girls school till the smell had gone. I was very reassured that he was in a better place than he left. He wasn't in the "absconder's lists" anyway - perhaps he couldn't see well enough to do so!  Like all Cadbury's 19th century projects it comes over as very caring.” He stayed in the house next to the clock tower and was given a Bible and a booklet on leaving.

There was confusion about Albert and Violet’s surname Their mother had not officially married their father and so when she died in 1899 she was the widow JOHNSON and so although the children had been registered with their father’s surname HOLLIOAKE  the Register of the Cottage Home gives:

Albert JOHNSON, an orphan born 1889 admitted 12 April 1899

discharged, aged 16, 7 November 1905 into service to a Mr Parslow, Pear Tree Farm, Yardley.

Violet JOHNSON, an orphan born 189l or 1893 (there appears to be some discrepancy), admitted 10 May 1899, discharged 11 Oct 1902 to Mrs Yarnell, Langley Grove, Langley Road, Small Heath.

There is no indication that Albert and Violet are brother and sister.

Albert continued to use the name JOHNSON throughout the rest of his life and his descendents have only discovered the HOLLIOAKE connection since the publication of the 1891 census.

The Marston Green Cottage Homes became a mental hospital and were demolished when the hospital closed.

Photograph Albert JOHNSON Dec 1905 just after he left Marston Green Cottage Homes he has a sprig of mistletoe in his buttonhole.

Information from Albert JOHNSON’s daughters has been supplemented with information from -

Peter Higginbotham's web site:

Brown Bread and Butter in the basement -A Twenties Childhood Jenifer Wayne Gollancz 1973

See also

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